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Africa's Opportunities 'Lie Close to Home'

Published date:
Wednesday, 19 July 2006

Officials from the US and African diaspora yesterday urged African countries to look inwards to find economic breakthroughs and much-needed investments.

Florizelle Liser, a senior official in the US trade representative office, said African nations had advantages they could learn to exploit. "Africa has a comparative advantage in agriculture. All it needs to do is to follow all the necessary steps, do its homework well to get its products marketable in the US," Liser told the seventh Leo Sullivan H summit in Abuja.

The four-day investment summit, which opened in the Nigerian capital on Monday, brings together about 600 political and business leaders, mostly Afro-Americans and delegates from the Caribbean.

It has also attracted participants from multilateral bodies, including World Bank president Paul Wolfowitz. He and Liberian head of state Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf were due to make presentations later in the day yesterday.

Liser said there were advantages that African nations could exploit in the US if they tailored their exports to the needs of the US market.

"There is a serious need for African nations to study the American markets in order to take advantage of the African Growth and Opportunity Act, or Agoa, so that African products can be acceptable to the US market," she said.

"For example, the ethnic clothing market in the US is a niche market. You need to prepare well to break into it."

She said that the US currently got supplies for the clothing market from Indonesia. African nations needed to attend trade expositions in the US more regularly and study the market well before thinking of entering it.

Agoa, set up about six years ago, listed about 6 500 categories of products that were duty free to the US, Liser said. But in those six years, Africa's share of the total US import market had only increased from 1 percent to about 2.3 percent.

The co-chairman of the Leon H Sullivan Foundation, Andrew Young, said there were massive opportunities to be seized in Africa itself.

Africa, with its population of more than 700 million, was "a huge market" for the continent's products, he pointed out.

"Do not only think of selling [your products] abroad, but also think of the African market," the former US ambassador to the UN told the conference.

He also urged Africans to plough revenue they had earned from the West back into their home countries. "Ghanaians did that some years ago by ploughing back $2 billion into their economy in the form of investments. That effort changed the Ghanaian economy for good."

Young said the Chinese and Indian economies had also changed for the better when citizens who had made fortunes in the US and other western nations invested their gains and experience in their home countries.

"We need to look inwards," agreed the former US ambassador to Nigeria, Howard Jeter.

"There is a lot to gain from Africans in the diaspora. But this has to be well co-ordinated and organised," he told AFP on the fringe of the summit.

"The diaspora is amorphous and not organised to contribute to the African continent's development. Someone in Africa has to organise the diaspora. There must be an African Union special envoy on diaspora to organise this."

Nigeria's President Olusegun Obasanjo urged the African diaspora to co-operate with those living on the African continent.

"We will work together so that the gap that history created will be bridged in our own time," he said.

"I want you to see Africa as your home; a continent where you can pursue leisure and business. Please see Africa as a land of opportunities and boundless possibilities," Obasanjo said.

"Our success here on the African continent has implication for your dignity, image, standing and progress in the diaspora.

"It is therefore in our mutual interest to work together and to succeed together," Obasanjo added.

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